The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that every Canadian has the right to remain silent until they can obtain legal representation. This means that when a Canadian is arrested under suspicion of having committed a crime, he or she is under no legal obligation to answer questions by the police. This legal right is intended to prevent confessions obtained by law enforcement through threats, violence, or torture from being admitted as evidence in a court of law. The right to silence is integral in the Canadian legal system to preventing the kinds of human rights abuses rampant in other legal systems around the world. There are, however, some precedents for cases wherein a Canadian court might not uphold a Canadian’s right to silence as enshrined in the Charter.
A recent case in Canada involved Jagrup Singh, a man taken into custody by police for his suspected involvement in an argument outside a pub that resulted in shots being fired and the death of a bystander. Police advised Singh of his right to remain silent, but then proceeded to ask him a variety of questions. After answering a few of the most basic of these, Singh refused to answer further more incriminating questions and reasserted his right to remain silent 18 times. Eventually, in a state of fatigue and stress, two elements that can seriously undermine the admissibility of legal evidence, Singh admitted to being at the scene of the crime. This was accepted as evidence by a panel of judges who argued that a person’s right to remain silent “does not mean, however, that a person has the right not to be spoken to by state authorities”. This is a confusing development that jeopardizes, in the eyes of many, the rights guaranteed in the Charter and could open the floodgates of police abuse. It is lucky that this is an uncommon precedent in Canadian law and a rare case of such evidence being accepted by Canadian courts.